Friday, May 21, 2010


From 7th May 2010 to 20th May 2010

Time ticks by and as they say, it never waits for man or beast so we decided we had better get moving from our little haven near St Gilles where we had spent 9 nights in the quiet of a canal surrounded by bush and grass so it was really relaxing although we did spend a lot of time doing our Spring Cleaning before our special guests start arriving at the end of the month. The weather did take a drop sadly with heavy winds and rain and cooler temperatures so we missed seeing some of the wonders of the delta which empties the rivers and canals and retains the biggest wetland area in France.

Rhonda's Comments: Another work of art!!!!

We did see a few of the famous white horses which run wild through this huge area and can only imagine how grand they must look in fine sunny conditions. The wild bulls are plentiful in the same area and the birdlife is amazing even in this weather. Thousands of birds of all types and sizes migrate to this area to breed so you see the sky almost turn black from the huge numbers of swallows and other dark coloured birds flying among them plus there are many what we call herons in New Zealand which really stand out due to the whiteness of their plumage.

In the sunshine of the second day of travel we noticed hundreds of lorikeet size birds which appeared as though they were making nests along the canal edge. They were coloured brilliantly as they carried red, black and yellow colours on there underside plus between the wings from the top view they display a beautiful blue colour which makes them one of the prettiest small birds I have ever seen. As this is such an area where saltwater is contained in the delta it is also the area where salt is a major part of the commerce so pyramids of the glistening stuff can be seen in the distance.

Rhonda's Comments: We had a hitch hiker.

We were not to see any of the famous pink Flamingos today, however, we are assured we will see some over the days ahead when we move on from Aigues-Mortes after two days moored along side this walled town. Built in the 12th century as a fort to assist the crusade troops when on their way to and from Jerusalem, the town has stood in fine form really since those times and even a set of the original wooden gates still stand at one of the gateways. Inside the walls is the main shopping centre with numerous stalls and market areas as well as art galleries and tourist shops and to see the old homes which are mainly in good order is a credit to the residents and authorities. Outside the walls is mainly residential apart from the industrial estates which are based further out of the town.

The port is right along side one of the walls so at night when the walls are lit, is a great sight. The port is quite large with a neverending flow of tourist boats coming and going so finding a berth can be difficult and expensive at €40.00 per night for our size boat. We went out to eat last night for Mother’s Day and sat in a nice comfortable restaurant (with Harry under the table of course) and chose some of the local fare to see how we liked it. The salads as an entrĂ©e were stunning with lots of mixed vegetables and some fruit including grapefruit on top. We foolishly had ordered a pizza as well, so had to really struggle to get through half of this as it was large and again loaded with beautiful cheeses, tomatoes, ham ,etc. A good night out and a real treat for Rhonda not having to prepare a meal for a change.

Today, Monday, we have been over to the walled town to wander about in typical tourist fashion looking at all the gifts and artefacts and at the art galleries where so many artists have displays and as the sun has come out and the temperature has risen we prepare to take off tomorrow along the Canal Rhone a Sete towards Carnon where we are told there is some great scenery so will bring you updates once we have covered some more miles.

Rhonda's Comments: Got fingers caught in the cookie jar!!!!

Well, talk about a night of drama as at around 11.30pm Harry decided to let me know he wanted to go out by jumping up onto the bed and onto my legs. How he has developed this act I don’t know but of course on the 3 or 4 occasion he has done it, I have responded so again I got up and opened the door for him to go out for a run in the car park and grassed area. While I was getting a coat to wear as it was spitting rain and there was a touch of thunder I presumed he would just run around on the grassed area as was normal until I caught up. After 3 or 4 minutes he had not returned so after calling him without result I took a torch and went out also telling Rhonda she had better get up and come and look as this was a real rarity for him to not answer a call.

We spent the best part of an hour wandering around the area calling and whistling him, looking in the water and under parked cars etc. To be honest we got really frantic as we had no idea of where next to look, so I was about to get the bike off the back of the boat to maybe go out onto the roads in the thought that I might find him. All of a sudden Rhonda called out to say he had appeared out of the darkness all of a sudden and short of breath so we don’t have any idea of where or what he did but we were sure delighted to get him back. We still can’t understand what would make him do this as it was completely out of character.

A fitful night’s sleep followed, however, we decided to get underway in the morning and lo and behold Harry did his disappearing trick again as we were getting the boat ready to depart for about 20 minutes before he came back all of a shiver so we guessed something had been wrong with him and sure enough he showed continuing signs of dysentery and gripes, however, thankfully that has now passed so hope we don’t have any more of that problem.

Once underway along the passage which is a very straight canal cut of around 15 kms near to the coast, it is amazing to be travelling along on a waterway with water just meters away on both sides of the canal. This area of inland sea and swamp area covers some 13,000 hectares which is amazing and is a favourite location for fishermen and leisure seekers not to mention the resting and nesting places for the millions of sea birds which use it either in their migratory travels or as a permanent home. It was while travelling through this area we were able to see the huge number of pink flamingos who just delight in using these waterways for wading and feeding. While they were too far away for good photographs we a were able to see the colours and when they flew the pink colours almost appear scarlet on their wings so we hope to get some close up photos before we leave this amazing area.

We have moored up in the canal outside the tourist resort town of Pavalas-les-Flots which sits almost on a Mediterranean beach and was once just a simple fishing village but was developed some years ago when the “smart money boys” determined that this could be a resort area so they dug out the mosquito swamps and just like the Gold Coast in Australia, went flat out building heaps of multiplex apartment blocks up to about 6 or 8 storeys. While it must have enjoyed a huge boom period it all now looks a bit tired and jaded and seems to have no heart so the Casino and the huge yacht basin are the centrepoints along with hundreds of restaurants, so many still with closed doors.

It is noted as being where the sport of Sea Jousting was founded by the Crusaders while waiting to move onto Palestine etc so regular competitions are held during the summer months engaging with teams from all along this coast. In earlier blogs we have shown photos of some enactments taking place and enjoyed watching the skills which these young fellows have developed.

The fishing boats still come into the town right alongside the main street to sell their catch each morning so the choice of variety and fresh fare is readily available. A walk around the marina which is huge, with yachts, launches and up to gin palace sized craft from almost every port in the world.
Looking out onto the Mediterranean is pleasant to say the least but the beaches are somewhat of a crushed gravel dust mix so I have to say I was not greatly impressed by it all. Some 15 kms away is the main city of Montpellier being the financial and business centre for the area but we don’t have the time to visit this city at this time.

Rhonda's Comments: What no food and an empty glass!!!!

With the weather seemingly to be improving again, we were able to get the scooter off and to go to the supermarket for refurbishment of food and drink then went into town for a calamari meal which we had so looked forward to. The service and presentation was really good, however, the calamari while being fresh was not up to the standard of Swashbucklers back in Auckland nor Doyles in Sydney. It was cooked carrying too much batter which soon left the remains tasting greasy and soggy but that is the way they do it so we had better look more carefully in future.

Anyway, as the weather has decided to turn to a more autumn feeling than should be for this part of the world, we pushed on to get through the bridge way which closes off the canal apart from two openings per day (8.30am and 4.0 pm) headed to the town of Frontignan which is the step before Sete where you have to decide if the conditions are suitable to cross the E’tang de Thau which is another inland sea protected only by a shingle bank from the Mediterranean but which is large enough for conditions to become very rough at times for the shallow, flat bottomed type craft of which most leisure barges are designed, to cross or to wait for conditions to improve. We will wait in Frontignan for a couple of days as there is a large open market here tomorrow, Saturday and parades etc on Sunday.

Today, Saturday, we visited the local markets which I have to say have been the best that we have seen since being in France with lots of variety of food and clothing and at very competitive prices for a change. The whole central area of the town is adorned with stalls and tents selling anything that the vendors believe they can make a profit from.

After lunch we took the scooter and set off for Sete which is about 12 kms from here. It is this city which controls the passageway across the E’tang de Thau. This sea is filled with oyster farms so once you have decided that you will enter this sea, it is imperative that you follow closely the marks and don’t venture too close to the farms nor too far the other way and become beached. In bad weather conditions the wind can push you into dangerous positions so it was good to see what faced us before venturing across.

The city of Sete is a huge port (the second largest fishing port on the Med) with a population of over 43,000 and in the port you will see the biggest range of trawlers and fishing boats possible. From Purse Seiners of up to at least 80 meters in length to the humble coastal fishing boats which hunt for local fish including calamari which is a great favourite of the locals and visitors alike.

While it is set right on the Mediterranean coast it also embraces some quite large hills up to 1500 feet at its western side so a trip up them gives great views over the city and area and a look at a different type of architecture of the homes etc. It is very steep but we took it on with the two of us on the scooter and almost made it to the top before the steepness plus the weight carried forced us to turn around and descend. We were really surprised, however, to see the number of folk cycling or walking up including a number of elderly residents. We wondered how all the residents used to manage this arduous climb before motor cars came along.

The view out across the Mediterranean is really good and gives a better perspective of just how big that sea is. Upon our return to Frontignan we received a call from our pal Jo who was going to drive our car down to us from Saint Jean-de-Losne, some 500 kms back, to say it would not start so “back to the garage”. What a lemon I seem to have bought but as we have already spent so much on it, we feel we should probably hold on to it in the hope that it can be simply fixed as we hopefully have done all that needs to be done to ensure it keeps going in future. Time will tell but we now need to work out another plan of how to get it down to here.
At least the weather has warmed and the skies are clear, however, the winds are blustery so we can’t attempt to cross the E’tang de Thau until it has quietened down, so fingers crossed for next week. Tomorrow we will see the parades and festivities which are going to be an all day happening so that should be interesting.

Well, Parade Day came and went in true French fashion. In the morning the market square became a selling yard for new cars. Displays by all the local and regional dealers were there for potential buyers to inspect and later in the day we waited for the Parade and sure enough at 5.0pm we heard an array of brass band music nearing and in the most shambolic format, bands strolled past accompanied by floats depicting things from Disneyland to whatever. The floats were loaded with children of almost every age and there seemed to be no control over them so they climbed and swung on and off the float trailers as they wished. Health and Safety in New Zealand or the UK would have had a heart attack I am sure. With gaps in the parade of up to 15 minutes and the floats being obviously of some vintage and tarted up for the occasion, we soon lost interest and joined some other boat folk for a vin or two.

Monday we spent getting ready to move on and took a couple of trips to the supermarket on the scooter shopping and getting our 20 litre drum filled with diesel for the generator and to ensure we had sufficient to cross the E’tang de Thau if the weather permits on Tuesday.

Ok, up and away as the weather looked pretty good and wind just light so we followed the canal to Sete but on the way we met our friends who had left our port at 6 am to beat the wind etc, coming back to say that the conditions were too rough for them, however, they have a smaller boat than “Somewhere” so we decided once we had seen the conditions out on the E’tang de Thau to push on. There was a light chop with whitecaps and the wind was strengthening but as we were to keep pretty close to the land on the windward side we crossed without incident taking 2 hours making the 12km passage.

It was unbelievable to see the endless miles of oyster farm racks for almost the whole distance and about a kilometre in breadth to the shore. No wonder this is the oyster capital of the world.

The fishing in the Mediterranean is quite startling when you consider that the French statistics alone state that there are some 15,000 tonnes of fish caught each year by amateur fishermen and 100,000 tonnes by the commercial trawlers etc of which due to quotas set on each type of fish caught almost 400,000 tonnes are thrown back and most of this is dead. Crazy isn’t it but the same thing happens in the UK and other E.U controlled countries and I am sure elsewhere in the world while so many people are starving.

After arriving at the end of the sea voyage we entered the Canal du Midi which at this point is a disgrace with hardly enough water under our keel for some reason, this canal which is like a local creek is jammed with all sorts of boats many of them just rotting hulks tied to the banks or home made jettys preventing passage craft to get to the so called marina and as we wanted water we were a bit peeved but pushed on and soon came to our first lock which then gave us access to the true canal which is tree lined, has a better width and depth so all looks more promising for our onward journey. We will stay in Agde and bring you more details of our voyage in a couple of weeks.

Best regards to all
Ken, Rhonda and Harry

Locks this season: 21
Kms this season: 620

Monday, May 3, 2010


Commencing 22/04/2010 to 3/04/2010

After a quiet night on the quay in the city of Lyon we awoke to another fine clear day
(talk about lucky) so while the nerves were jangling a bit following reports of some hell conditions which can be experienced on this river after it merges with the Saone doubling the volume of water making its way to the Mediterranean, we set off and were only underway when we got held up at the first lock while we waited for a commercial barge to catch us and to enter first (they, always have priority). It was so big 105m in length that there wasn’t room for us to fit in so we had to wait for it to get lowered some 12meters and then moved off but allowed another vessel to come in from the downstream end so by the time we got through an hour had passed but never mind it was a case of achieving speeds of around 6.7 knots due to the increased river flow but all was quiet in actual terms.

Years ago when traffic was first using this river for commerce it was a case of manning the barges downstream then it took up to 30 horses to drag them back to Lyon so they were often burned at the most southern end of their journey to minimise the costs. A huge amount of money has been spent over the years to deepen the river bed and to blast rapids plus build these huge locks which are also used as hydro-electric dams on the side where the river would usually run. The locks as described are quite awesome when one first enters them but as there are plenty of floating bollards fitted to each side, the ride up or down is smooth but timely due to the huge volume of water to be added or evacuated.

After a day of running down stream we pulled in to the riverside marina of Les-Roches-de-Condrieu where power and water is available. A lovely marina with delightful grounds but at €26.00 per night for our size of boat has ensured we will not be staying here for more than the one night. This area is quite amazing with the vineyards planted on the steep southern facing hillsides where the reflection off the southern sun reflects off the river and assists in ripening the grapes. Little or no growing is seen on the northern facing slopes. The only problem we could see was that the hillsides are so steep you would almost need to be a mountain goat to work in among the plantings. Just imagine if you have worked your way to the top, pruning or whatever, and you realised you had left your lunch in the van at the bottom. Gee I would be thin for sure.

As time is moving on through spring towards summer, it is great to see all the trees shrubs and meadows bursting out in new growth and colour. The scents of so many permeate the air and climbers like the wisteria are in full colour so adorn many homes and buildings and soften the overall look of many areas. We pulled into a new berthage area called Glun which has a new pontoon and while it does not have power nor water supplied, it is so delightful as it borders onto a great park with lots of kids playground areas. Free overnight stay has trimmed back some of the €26.00 we had to spend in Les-Roches so all seems fair again.

The river is still kind to us so today we did nearly 10 hours bringing us right down to Bollene which boasts of having the largest or deepest lock in France and while we have experienced all but the largest, we will do that tomorrow, we have been awed by the size and then the power of the water being released so wonder about tomorrow.

We chose to stay on a commercial quay just out of town right beside an atomic power station but which has also 3 of those huge wind turbine towers placed nearby. We cannot detect any sounds at all so don’t know what the people back home are complaining about when saying they hear them from several kms away. Berths in the town are limited we are told and expensive if you can find one to suit our boat size so again this one is free. Sounds like we are miserable but every bit saved is worth it as we face a number of moorings ahead costing around €30.00 per night.

The navigator tells me we have about 7 hours to get to Avignon where we hope to stay for a few days and top up the larder and the grog box so do hope this fabulous weather continues. I am in my second day of “shorts” so while the sight might not be great the feeling sure is.

Saturday and we got under way at 8 .30 am ready to face the 3rd deepest lock in the world. It was No1 until the Portuguese built theirs a few years ago and of course the Chinese had to build the biggest as part of their Yangtze project. As we were making our way towards the jaws we were red lighted by the lockmaster who then told us to tie up at one of the holding gates as there was a passenger vessel coming down and they have the right away. Every lock area has its own VHF channel so there is contact between ships and lockmaster at all times. All we have to hope for is that he can handle our lousy French and we, his poor English.

The passenger vessel which was very large (see pics) slid into the lock and then we were instructed to follow which all went well but it just shows how big these locks are. The depth is 23 meters and it takes only 7 minutes to empty and 7 to refill again, so is like riding an express elevator but no drama provided you were tied on to one of the floating bollards which slide up or down the wall at the same level as the water. At the bottom of the lock the sun seems to be obliterated due to the height of the walls then the gates slide open and you are out onto the river again and get gathered up by the spillway flow so this takes a bit of getting used to until everything settles down again as you move away from the lock vicinity.

We have now had a full week on the rivers since leaving Saint Jean de Losne and it has sure been good to be underway and I might add, get almost instant coverage for the computer. No drop outs nor any problems and SFR (our internet provider) is easily accessible so it is great to have proper communications again - even the TV coverage is good. I guess Saint Jean de Losne is in a blackspot so to speak which is such a shame when so many folk who stay there for such a long time need good reliable coverage etc.

During the trip down we have seen lots of old castles and remnants of fortifications many dating back to the Crusades and even further. It is amazing how they are still standing after so many wars including the two World Wars and when you see how they built some of them on the top of cliffs or rocky outcrops the engineering is to be fully admired even if you don’t like old castles like me but Rhonda is in her element.
Rhonda's Comment: "Sur le pont Avignon ..........."

Ok, here it is 4.30pm and we have just moored up in Avignon which is actually in the true south of France so we feel as though we are almost there so to speak. The river Rhone spread out after the last lock to where it must be close to a kilometre wide in places so appeared to have slowed down. That was until we turned up into the river tributary at the junction where the longest island on the river divides the flow so you have to go upstream to the city and we were down to 2 knots per hour despite running the revs up to 1600. We could not believe the power of the flow and the moorings are just rings and bollards along a quay as any of the marinas built to date have all been washed away when the real flow comes through. Wherever you go there are signs warning about the severe water flows even in fine weather due to snow melts and heavy rains occurring in the mountains and hills so we will still have to keep ourselves alert until we get off the river totally in about 2 days.

Avignon is a very historic city with the old part being contained within walls which were built in the 13th century and still stand proud today. The old part of the city which is contained within those walls is really quaint and the narrow streets lead you to some great sights including the town square where in addition to all the various gift type shops hosts a number of large restaurants offering al fresco dining so there are hundreds of visitors soaking up this wonderful ambiance and good food. One of the favourites here is mussels and chips (Moules and Frits) which are considered a delicacy and which I will spoil myself to a lunch of before we depart this city. We have encountered a number of boat visitors from the UK, Sweden, Holland and Australia so there has been a bit of banter exchanged which is fun.

Today, Monday has been a real rest day which has been so nice so with the laundry all done (even some ironing) we look forward to getting the scooter off tomorrow and exploring and shopping in the new part of the city. Tuesday was a day of scooter exploration and to find the local marine dealer for a tube of grease. Eventually found the company who was a Mercury stockist and had the grease tube ready for putting direct into a grease gun. The price, wait for it, was €26.00. We nearly choked but as it was what we needed we were forced to buy. It had better work well!

Rhonda's Comments: I love this city - it is sooooo french!!!!! Sometimes I feel as though I am on a movie set.

The whole day was taken up on the river by hotel and tourist boats coming to drop off groups to buses which then whisked the tourists away to see the sights of this region. During the night, the electricity company who control the dam levels thus the flow of the river had obviously been dragging a lot of water for power generation but as a result our boat which we had tied fore and aft plus a close mid rope was left stretching the mid rope so we had a real list on which was a bit alarming. The rope was too tight to undo so with regret I had to cut it and our 45 tonnes of boat settled into the river again. Something to be aware of for sure.

The other thing which is a sight to behold is the huge amount of what we would call kapok which I seem to remember being used for stuffing of mattresses and pillow not so many years ago. The trees are like the Silver Birch with the kapok dropping all over the place leaving a carpet in thickness up to 25 mm. Harry just loved to play in it.

Rhonda's Comments: This is the outside of the covered market place.

Wednesday was another day when we spent some hours walking around the old city and enjoying the sights and watching the people. It is a really metropolitan city with so many races mixed and apparently getting along without too many problems. Sadly there is a lot of graffiti which we have often commented in the past 12 months how little is seen but Avignon is an exception. It takes the edge off the beauty really.

Rhonda's Comment: A swimming pool - this is what every barge should have especially in the Med!!! Ken when is ours being installed?

Thursday was a day for Rhonda to take off walking again around the central old city, while I spent the day working on the boat getting ready for departure which we planned for Friday weather permitting.

Rhonda's Comments: A beautiful field of dandelions!!!!!!

Well, as planned we pulled off from Avignon at 9.00 am on Friday with the knowledge we had a big lock to go through within the first hour. We were overtaken on the way by a big commercial vessel which was travelling at approx 12knots compared to our 6 so we were surprised to arrive at the lock to find it still waiting to get through. All in all, we wasted over an hour as the lockmaster seemed to lack any sense of timing so we had to wait for the commercial to eventually get through then for the lock to be filled again before we could get our turn. Honestly, it was the worst we had struck for delay since arriving in France and on top of this he also refused to speak any words of English and wouldn’t acknowledge our French language attempts. As a result of this delay followed by another at the next lock, we spent 9 hours working our way to the off shoot from the Rhone river and onto the Canal du Rhone a Sete, so we found a nice little mooring against the bank with a small jetty and settled for a well earned rest.

So in fact we have “done” the Saone and the Rhone which was such a bogey originally in our minds due to all the tittle-tattle about how frightening these rivers are from time to time which seems to be so often chatted about by boaties. I am sure that when the melt is fully on or after several weeks of heavy rain they sure could be quite awesome but with care and taking notice of the official authorities advice there seems to be no reason why this journey can’t be enjoyed and all the beauty witnessed like we did.

We now will move onto the next stage which is travelling almost along the coast “of the Mediterranean” that is towards the Canal du Midi which is where we plan to spend the next 12 months so this closes this blog and as usual, thanks for your interest and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask for any additional information or clarification.

Kindest regards.
Rhonda, Ken and Harry
Total Locks this Season: 19
Total Kms this Season: 513